Friday, March 5, 2010


Yesterday, I went to confer with Bill, a bank executive who is helping me to sort out the financial vagaries of the retirement I entered last June.

Bill is an exceptionally clean man in his forties. His neatly-trimmed mustache and neatly-combed hair sit on top of a well-pressed blue suit and a carefully-positioned tie. There is a Rotary Club pin on his right lapel. His fingernails almost glisten with well-trimmed cleanliness.

As we discussed the details of what needed to be done, there would be occasional segues into all sorts of other areas. Bill is a Christian. His brother is a pentecostal minister. And when Bill pointed out that the first year of retirement was a time of rethinking and reshaping and confusion, he added that he really couldn't see how anyone could manage the big life changes without some spiritual support system -- some belief (and he wasn't pushing Christianity especially). His feeling was that the life he could see all around him constituted a miracle for which someone or something was responsible. And he did not get upset when I asked conversationally and without emphasizing the point, "Who says so?"

Nor was he upset when I said that one of the things that interested me about Christianity that infuses the culture I live in was this: If God is omnipresent, then, it seems to me, only God can pray to God. And if God weren't omnipresent, what sort of a god might that be?

His feeling was that it was our actions that counted and we were all lending each other a hand. That was our potential and our gift. And I wasn't about to dispute him.

What interested me was the teaching he imparted by his actions. Figuring out retirement finances (and I have never been the sharpest pencil when it comes to plotting financial matters) has an implicit message attached: I am going to die. Combine this with the 'death' of no longer working eight hours a day for a living, and I felt somehow relieved to hear another person say that the first year after retirement was confusing.

Bill was supportive as well. "You are doing stuff that a lot of people don't do. They wait until they've got one foot in the nursing home door and then have the additional burden of trying to straighten out what they might have straightened out earlier." That didn't ease the factual nature of mortality, but I do hate the idea of leaving a mess for others to clean up ... whether in the kitchen or in life.

In the wake of that meeting, I realized I had been given good and supportive advice, advice worthy of any Zen master. There is more work to do -- one koan after another after another -- but Bill was pointing in healthy directions. This does not mean I probably won't go kicking and screaming, but it does mean that I will go.

Bill fulfilled his "Christian" duties and I will try to fulfill my "Zen Buddhist" understandings. It's all just human stuff and perhaps Bill is right about the "spiritual" component to clearing matters up, but I'm not sure. Maybe, even without the spiritual folderol, it's just what works best.

1 comment: